'Minister Shandro, take Yes': AMA publishes latest proposal to government
EDMONTON -- A newspaper ad by Alberta doctors Wednesday morning addresses Health Minister Tyler Shandro directly: "Take yes."
The Alberta Medical Association is making its latest offer in negotiations with the provincial government public.
The AMA says it will accept a three-year physician budget cap of $4.57 billion annually, explore new payment models, and work with government to improve the health care system in exchange for government "pay[ing] for any new physicians over the existing number of physicians," restoring AMA’s right to binding arbitration, and continuing to pay for programs and grants like maternity/paternity benefits and the physician health program.
According to the AMA, the majority of recruitment of new doctors is done by government and Alberta Health Services, and with a restriction in Bill 21 to limit the number of physician codes, the association feels the government should be financially responsible for a factor under its control.
Association president Dr. Christine Molnar said the dispute between the AMA and Alberta has "very little to do with money."
“We have not been treated with respect or value, and we have been treated like we are the problem to be solved, and we have been treated with pressure tactics being used on us, which does not result in physicians in this province feeling valued or wanted,” she told media during a Wednesday morning press conference.
In the ad, the AMA promises to withdraw its lawsuit against the government after an agreement is signed, which was filed in April after the AMA contract ended and the association accused the government of withdrawing its right to arbitration.
"Please Minister Shandro, take Yes for an answer."
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The AMA said the proposal was its sixth offer since negotiations began in November 2019.
But the government says no previous offer by the AMA held the budget at current levels.
The health ministry spends $5.4 billion annually in physician compensation. AMA says the difference between its $4.57-billion annual commitment are items outside the master agreement, like Alberta Health staff salaries, payment to resident physicians and non-clinical items like grants to universities.
According to Shandro, those programs aren’t in harm's way.
“Our plan simply ensures spending is held to current levels – the highest in Alberta’s history and the highest per capita in Canada. It also ensures that Alberta’s doctors rightfully remain the highest paid in the country,” he wrote in response Wednesday.
By government data, physician spending represents 10 per cent of the Alberta budget and is projected to cause overruns in the single-digit billions in future years if left unchanged.
Premier Jason Kenney, speaking early Wednesday afternoon, said he had not yet read the AMA offer but denied any previous proposal by the association had been "credible."
He also called annual increases unsustainable.
"Alberta, today, has $300 billion economy. Five years ago we had a $365 billion economy," Kenney told media.
"Over the same period we’ve seen a roughly 20 per cent reduction in the size of Alberta’s economy, a 10 per cent reduction in after-tax income for private-sector families, we have seen a 23 per cent increase in compensation for some of the wealthiest people in our province.
"They deserve to be compensated fairly and generously, but we have to come to an agreement where we don’t see these constant annual increases."
The AMA has recognized Alberta has the highest rates of compensation across Canada, but says it is in line with Alberta’s overall higher wages.
Molnar called the current state of negotiations a “very unfortunate situation,” but said the intent of going public with the AMA proposal was to show Albertans doctors were working to support them and advocate for their needs.
“If it continues you will see, unfortunately you will see what we heard the initial indications of in our physician survey: that many physicians are thinking about leaving this province.”